One of the nice things about our yard is that it backs up to a playing field where people walk their dogs, college kids play ultimate Frisbee, and school kids play soccer and lacrosse.
I really enjoy sitting out on the deck, watching young athletes go through their paces and listening to the excited sounds of athletic competition.
As the father of three daughters, I have come to enjoy watching girls’ sports more than boys’, and I really miss being a spectator in my daughters’ lives. I miss watching Hannah dance and run. I miss watching Nora play softball and field hockey. And I miss watching Tess play soccer, lacrosse and run track.
So I was getting a little nostalgic last weekend when the playing field was full of young girls competing in a lacrosse tournament. For more than a decade, our lives revolved around school and premier sports, especially in the spring when there always seemed to be a soccer tournament somewhere in Vermont, New Hampshire or Massachusetts on Mother’s Day.
The playing field out back was full of shouts and cheers: “Ball! Ball! Ball!” or “Go! Go! Go!” or “Stay with her! Stay with her!” All the noise excited the dog, who was tied to the apple tree while we composted the garden; he’d start barking when the shouting got intense. And it was while trying to keep the dog quiet that I began to pick out a few voices distinct from the rest, a little louder, more persistent, and not always positive: “Oh, come on, ref!” or “Foul! That’s a foul!” or “Stop her! Stop her! Stop her!”
It chagrins me to realize that I had one of those loud parental voices on the sidelines, especially when Tess was playing.
It probably wouldn’t surprise some readers of this column to know that I can bellow with the best of them and I have impeccable timing. I know exactly when to yell so the official will hear me. I have had basketball games stopped so a referee could tell me to shut up. And I have had more than one soccer official tell me there is a zero tolerance policy for unsportsmanlike conduct from fans. Being a loudmouth jerk, I actually once replied, “Obviously you don’t have a zero tolerance policy or you wouldn’t be giving me a warning.”
Despite riding the officials unmercifully, I was only ejected from one soccer game, but I ultimately felt exonerated in that case because what I was complaining about was the way the referee was letting offensive players run into the goalie. Shortly after I was ejected for repeatedly yelling, “Come on, ref! Do your job! Protect the goalie!” our goalie got her collar bone broken when an opponent ran into her. She later thanked me for trying to keep her safe.
Most of the time, however, I was just being a jerk, living through my daughter’s athletic exploits, trying to control the action and the outcome with my big mouth. My excuse was that I grew up in an era when yelling at the ump and the ref was just part of the game. Heck, back in high school we used to engage in verbal battles of chants with the opposing fans.
Somewhere I have a True Blue Clipper plaque given to me by Tess’s soccer team designating me their No.1 Fan. But Carolyn, who had a healthier attitude about youth sports than I did, would never stand near me on the sidelines and Tess herself told me to shut up on more than one occasion.
I confess my sideline sins now, in hopes that some other fathers and mothers might read my words and reflect on their own vociferous support of their kids. Tone it down. Keep it positive. If you know someone who could benefit from this column, make sure they read it. I’m told parents have gotten so bad in some places there are now sporting events played in silence to keep parents from verbally abusing officials, coaches and kids.
Watching your kids compete is a magical time. You thrill at their power, speed, grace and skill. You take pride in their accomplishments. Your whole world can focus on your kids and their games. It all seems so very important until it’s not.
Suddenly the games are over. The magic is gone and you can’t get it back. And you can’t take back all the things you said in the heat of a battle that was never really yours in the first place.
Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.